Think of your lifestyle as a recipe. It has a lot of ingredients, but which ones make for a happy life? TEARAWAY Maverick THOMAS STEVENSON looks at two of the most important ingredients: his ‘F-words’ (and no, one of them is not ‘Facebook’).


‘F’ is for ‘Fitness’
People who don’t go to the gym are always surprised when I tell them I go to the gym. They ask why somebody of my background would possibly want to go there. I can understand; I’m still more of a stick insect than a Schwarzenegger. Yet I go gymming regularly because it’s there that I can combine the two main things that make me a happier person. I call them my F-words: fitness and friends.


Let’s consider fitness first. Your body, despite what you might have heard, isn’t a temple. It’s an engine. This engine runs on water and yummy things and is able to protect your brain and do whatever’s necessary to survive and reproduce. However, it was never supposed to lie on a couch and watch big, shiny screens. As entertaining as this might be, in the long run it won’t do you any good.


You see, your engine is supposed to run itself and keep running. Certain components break down if they aren’t used. For instance, blood pools in your legs if you sit still for too long. Our legs need oxygen, supplied by flowing blood, so they can carry us around. When the engine-man is running and your legs are moving, like on a walk to the dairy, the blood is pumped back up and keeps circulating, so there’s no problem. You get enough oxygen to keep going and eventually nourish yourself with a well-deserved icecream. But when you sit still, like on a couch at 7:00pm, your legs aren’t moving and the blood isn’t pumped back up so efficiently. So it begins to pool: the engine idles.


The phrase ‘use it or lose it’ is true when it comes to physical fitness. If you don’t use your muscles, then you’re wasting energy in maintaining them, so they begin to wear away. Joggers use the muscles in their legs quite a lot, so these muscles are considered worthy of energy expenditure and they grow over time.


For weightlifters, it’s the same story, but in their arms, upper body and thighs. But if you’re not moving about, there’s no point in the engine providing fuel for your muscles. So it doesn’t.


That’s all very well, but does good fitness really help you be happy? You may have heard of dopamine, the mysterious chemical that supposedly stimulates good feelings. Dopamine is nothing mythical, it’s something called a (long word alert) neuro-transmitter, produced in your brain in response to things the bodily engine would consider beneficial. Things like exercise and eating food. It’s like a reward system for the brain.


Dopamine isn’t produced when you’re sitting around. The bad news is that dopamine deficiency can lead to laziness, depression and gradually losing the will to live. Good news is, it’s easy to boost your dopamine levels. Exercise is a great method for that. You can head along to the gym like me; in some places (like Otago) gym membership is free for students. Or you can walk a bit more. Are there any places you usually drive to that are within walking distance? Why not swap your vehicle for those mighty legs? Your engine will thank you for it. If you get icecream along the way, there’ll be even more dopamine flowing.


‘F’ is for ‘Friends’


I’ve said we can think of ourselves as being like automated engines, but really a human is more special than that. Our brains have adapted to help us communicate with each other and form relationships. This leads to the familiar concept of friends. What is a friend for if not happiness? Yes, it’s best to choose your mates wisely, because the term is thrown around a lot, without much care. Don’t hang around with people who pressure you into doing unsavoury things.


Research has shown that if you have at least two close friends, you’re more likely to lead a fulfilling life and be a happy person. I mean somebody who you can trust and who you know trusts you as well. The sort of person you might have gone through primary school with, or even somebody in your family. If you can’t confide in anyone, loneliness and depression can kick in, as you bottle everything up instead. Surround yourself with those who will listen to your problems and show support.


To get back to the original point, the reason people like me go gymming (call it what you will) is to combine the two F-words: fitness and friends. Make it a social activity and you’ll find exercise much more fun. Never worry about how you look; as long as you’re comfortable, your friends won’t mind at all.
However you decide to keep fit, whether it’s making a detailed routine or just doing a run twice a week, don’t give up on your decision. As long as you do something to exercise, you will get the dopamine boost. Having friendlies around to share the experience with will increase how happy you feel.


And if you feel a dance coming on, don’t hesitate. Just make sure you’re all doing the same dance.